Friday, December 26, 2008

Good King Wenceslas

As many of you already know, Good King Wenceslas is best remembered for looking & then seeing & finally acting on the Feast of Stephen. Today is the Feast of Stephen.

Saint Stephen is recognized as the first christian martyr (I would have thought this was Jesus, but I would be wrong). He was born a Jew, preached largely among Jews & died at the hands of Jews. It was Saint Stephen who first blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus. (ACTS7).

But it was not this that brought Wenceslas to Saint Stephen's Day; Stephen's 'day job' was the care & oversight of the poor. When he had free time, he wrangled with the scholars of the varied temples, explaining how they had been chosen by G*d, but he was fed up with them (G*d & Stephen both, fed up with the Jews, that is).

As apart from his society as Stephen was, having left his people & joined a new group of outsiders, Wenceslas was in the thick of his. He was in fact the center of it. He inherited a kingdom deeply divided. His grandmother, also a saint, had been murdered at his mother's order. He was himself murdered on his brother's.

History has credited Wenceslas with extra efforts in the care of the poor. It was a big part of what got him killed. Tenth century Bohemia was a particularly barbaric place. Many of the nobles believed their riches were a direct sign from G*d that they were right & good & that those who had nothing were chosen by G*d to have nothing. They did not enjoy paying Wenceslas's taxes knowing he used some of the funds to feed & clothe these less fortunate.

While he reigned, Wenceslas was in negotiation with everyone, inside the realm & out. When modern historians talk about the Balkans being at war for one thousand years, they are talking about a war that dates to the time of Wenceslas & before. He made deals wherever he could; whether he would have honored them is a different question. He was struck down in the doorway of the church in which he sought sanctuary.

Saint Wenceslas Day, if you are interested, is September 28th. It is also a national holiday: Czech Statehood Day. We may have only heard of Wenceslas because of a song written 150 or so years ago, but in the his part of the world, he has been a very big deal for a very long time.

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